By Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal
When I think about the bright future I believe is ahead for the Conservative movement, I often frame it through a phrase that Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Rabbinical Assembly uses often in her conversations with colleagues. Our goal is to spread “More Torah to More Jews in More Places.”
Those places include synagogues and camps, alternative minyanim and Renewal congregations, minyanim at home, on a mountaintop, in the forest or on the beach — anywhere Jews are looking to create a meaningful Shabbat or holiday prayer experience that is relevant, celebratory and spiritual.
As our Conservative movement evolves, we’re finding new ways to meet the diversity of today’s Jewish community, from those who read Hebrew fluently to those haven’t encountered Hebrew since their bar or bat mitzvah; from those who grew up immersed in Jewish life to those exploring it for the first time; and from singles to marrieds, young adults to seniors, those who are straight to those in the LGBT community.
One of the ways the Conservative movement is helping to facilitate meaningful prayer experiences that are inspirational, passionate and spirited is through the our new Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat and Festival, a prayer book that includes diverse readings and liturgical alternatives, Torah teachings on every page, and lucid and clear commentaries that give context to each prayer and clear direction to the person praying.
This siddur also brings “Torah” from every period and place in Jewish history. Stunning, beautifully translated liturgical poetry from the Middle Ages in Spain and North Africa inspires along with modern verse from various parts of the world. In just one example, following the precedent of ancient synagogues, this volume welcomes Shabbat by offering sensual passages from the Song of Songs along with the psalms and verses of the “traditional” kabbalat service, together with modern poetic selections from Israel and North America.
With transliterations for every prayer, the siddur ensures that our synagogue experience will embrace more people — Jews of every background, and people of other faiths and no faith. The prayers to be used for a baby naming include formulations for same-gender and single parents. The Yizkor memorial service includes a meditation in “memory of a parent who was hurtful.” Beautiful personal meditations include selections for those feeling deep sadness, a sense of overwhelming gratitude, or the desire to pray for the peace and well-being of all humanity. There are opportunities for varied spiritual expression on every page, helping people pray with a truly “full heart,” a lev shalem.
With people of other faiths or no religious affiliation often attending our services — whether to explore Judaism, accompany a Jewish spouse or as guests for a life cycle celebration — this siddur is sensitive to the particular sensibilities that sometimes are a part of the traditional liturgy, offering alternative language or helpful explanatory notes, while also opening up the liturgy to more universal concerns such as the need to care for the environment and prayers for peace.
While coverage in the Jewish media of our movement tends to focus on our challenges and often portrays the future of our movement with skepticism, areas of strength abound. Most of our affiliated congregations here in the D.C. area are thriving, with creative and innovative clergy, schools and programs. Internationally, the Ramah camping movement is growing at a dizzying pace — including a new day camp right here in Germantown that is growing by 50 percent in its second year. And we are poised to reach out beyond our synagogues, including a local Maryland initiative to reach young Jews in their 20s and 30s, set to begin this fall.
The Conservative movement’s publication of Lev Shalem, coming just a few years after its publication of Mahzor Lev Shalem for the High Holidays, is another example of its strength. A movement that can produce a prayer book of such quality and ability to inspire, and that embraces both modernity and tradition, is a movement that indeed has a bright future ahead.
Jacob Blumenthal is rabbi of Shaare Torah in Gaithersburg.